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Clay v. Howard Univ.

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

March 11, 2015

LINDA CLAY, Plaintiff,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY et al., Defendants

For LINDA CLAY, Plaintiff: Sharon Yvette Eubanks, LEAD ATTORNEY, Catharine E. Edwards, EDWARDS KIRBY, LLP, Washington, DC.

For HOWARD UNIVERSITY, Defendant: Lydia Auzoux, LEAD ATTORNEY, HOWARD UNIVERSITY, Washington, DC; Alan S. Block, Dawn Star Singleton, BONNER KIERNAN TREBACH & CROCIATA, LLP, Washington, DC.

For JAMES JONES, Defendant: Amanda C. Dupree, LEAD ATTORNEY, MORGAN, LEWIS & BOCKIUS LLP, Washington, DC; Joyce E. Taber, LEAD ATTORNEY, MORGAN, LEWIS & BOCKUS LLP, Washington, DC.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Linda Clay asserts statutory and tort claims against her former employer and supervisor related to the end of her employment in the Human Resources department at Howard University. Defendants Howard University and James Jones have each moved to dismiss Clay's complaint, and Clay moved orally to amend the complaint at oral argument on the motions to dismiss on February 11, 2015. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend and grants Jones' motion to dismiss Count III against him. The Court denies without prejudice the balance of Defendants' motions to dismiss, which Defendants may renew as to Plaintiff's amended complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a 50-year old African-American female, joined Howard's HR department as a Benefits Analyst in January 2006. (Compl. ¶ 9). She received " excellent performance reviews" and took on " significant responsibility as the sole Benefits Analyst." ( Id.) She was promoted to Senior Benefits Analyst in September 2011. ( Id.) In February 2012 her direct supervisor David Greene informed Plaintiff that she would be promoted to a position in the Leadership Academy under Senior HR Director Valeria Stokes. This was an " excellent opportunity to train for advancement." ( Id. ¶ 36).

On February 27, 2012, another HR employee in the Benefits section, Rosemarie Thompson, approached Clay. Several Howard University paystubs had been delivered to Thompson's office in error. Neither Clay nor Thompson recognized the name on the paystubs, Cynthia Edwards, as that of a current or former Howard employee. The employee number on the paystubs belonged to another HR employee, Robert Jackson, who was a friend of Edwards'. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 26-27).

Given the friendship between Edwards and Jackson, Clay " was concerned that the paystubs had been improperly generated and were fraudulent." (Compl. ¶ 27). She elected not to report the paystubs to her direct supervisor, David Greene, based on Greene's relationship with Jackson and Edwards, all three of whom worked at PRM, a private human resources company which had " numerous contracts" with Howard. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 20, 28). Instead of reporting the paystubs to Greene, Plaintiff reported them to Defendant Jones, who was then Howard's Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer. Although Plaintiff did not know it at the time, Jones was also a partner at PRM. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 18, 20, 28-29).

Plaintiff and Jones met to discuss " the possible fraud relating to the falsified paystubs" on March 2, 2012. ( Id. ¶ 30). Jones offered several " extremely far-fetched" explanations and told her he would " handle it" and she shouldn't " do anything." ( Id. ¶ 31). Believing that Jones did not intend to address the issue, Plaintiff contacted Howard's Internal Auditor, Carroll Little and Antwon Lofton, Director of EEO Compliance. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 32-34). Though Lofton encouraged Plaintiff to discuss the matter with him and to inform him of any retaliation, he did not respond to Plaintiff's attempt to set up a meeting. (Id Id. ¶ ¶ 34-35).

On March 7, 2012 Jones asked Plaintiff for another copy of the paystubs. ( Id. ¶ 37). Senior HR Director Stokes, who had advised Plaintiff to report the paystubs to Lofton, was terminated that day. ( Id. ¶ 39). Two days later Jones informed Plaintiff that his associate, Kym Wilson, would investigate the paystubs. ( Id. ¶ 38). After Plaintiff told Wilson how she came to learn about the paystubs, Jones told Plaintiff the paystubs came in a mail with a cover letter and that they " had something to do with a mortgage." ( Id.) On March 19, 2012, Jones called Plaintiff into his office and asked why she reported the paystubs to the internal auditor. Jones asked her which " side" she was on and told her she " bet on the wrong team." ( Id. ¶ 40). Plaintiff understood Jones was " highly displeased" that the Internal Auditor was involved because " what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," referring to the HR Department. ( Id. ¶ 41).

In this same conversation, Jones informed Plaintiff her position had been abolished as part of a Reduction in Force (" RIF" ). Jones offered her an HR Generalist position, which he portrayed as a lateral transfer. Plaintiff had no choice but to accept the new position or be terminated. ( Id. ¶ 42). When she contacted Michael McFadden, the Senior Director who would be her new supervisor, on March 20, 2012, McFadden was " surprised" to learn that the reassignment was official and for a full-time position. ( Id. ¶ 43). The new Generalist position " had no defined responsibilities, and certainly did not have responsibilities commensurate with her previous position as Senior Benefits Analysis." ( Id. ¶ 44). The position also " required several areas of knowledge that Ms. Clay did not possess and for which she was not offered any training." Given the patchwork of responsibilities, Plaintiff believed the " lateral transfer" was " intended to retard [her] career advancement and set her up for failure" as retaliation for her having reported the false pay stubs. ( Id. ¶ 45). Thompson, the employee who had initially approached Plaintiff about the paystubs, was terminated on May 18, 2012. ( Id. ¶ 47).

In early June 2012 Plaintiff's former Senior Benefits Analyst position was posted on indeed.com, a job-advertising website, and was filled on July 15, 2012. Plaintiff's female successor did not have the experience or certifications that Plaintiff did, and was paid $9,000.00 more than what Plaintiff had been paid. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 48, 49). By August 6, 2012, [1] " due to the discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation," Plaintiff's work conditions had become " intolerable" and she submitted her resignation. ( Id. ¶ 50).

Howard terminated Jones for cause in November 2012. ( Id. ¶ 51). In December 2012, Plaintiff learned that her former Senior Benefits Analyst position had been posted. Plaintiff submitted an application and received an interview. ( Id. ¶ 52). One week after her interview she learned the position had been filled by Jackson, the man whose employee number appeared on the questionable paystubs. Jackson, who was not as qualified as Plaintiff, and had not served in that position before, was paid $14,000.00 more per year than Plaintiff. ( Id. ¶ 53).

Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC on November 28, 2012, which she supplemented on April 5, 2013. (Compl. ¶ 8). The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue on June 27, 2013, supplemented with a second Notice (in response to the supplemental charge) on September 17, 2013. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on September 25, 2013.

The lawsuit asserts five claims under federal and local law. Count I asserts a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Counts II and III assert gender discrimination in violation of Title VII (against Howard University only) and the D.C. Human Rights Act (" DCHRA" ), respectively. Plaintiff asserts a violation of the Equal Pay Act (Count IV) and a claim for retaliation in violation of Title ...


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